- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2002

FREDERICK, Md. Attorneys for a mentally retarded ex-convict charged with murdering and sexually assaulting a 9-year-old boy rested their case yesterday after presenting sketchy evidence suggesting police let the real killer go free.
Frederick County Circuit Judge G. Edward Dwyer then scheduled closing arguments for this morning in the case, which is being closely watched by advocates for tougher sentencing laws.
Elmer Spencer Jr.'s public defenders took about 90 minutes to present five witnesses and about a dozen exhibits. In contrast, the prosecution questioned 25 witnesses and presented 70 exhibits over five days.
The defense tried to raise doubts among jurors about the thoroughness of the police investigation after Christopher Ausherman's battered, strangled body was found in a municipal ballpark dugout the morning of Nov. 20, 2000.
Public Defender Franklin Stillrich and Assistant Public Defender Michael Morrissette focused specifically on a man police chased down and detained after spotting him near the crime scene shortly after the body was found.
Frederick city police Lt. Bryan Brown testified he saw spots on the front of the man's jeans.
"At that time, being in the area of the crime scene, I believed they could be possibly blood," Lt. Brown said.
The jeans were never tested, Mr. Morrissette said in his opening statement Feb. 8. They did not appear bloodstained when Assistant State's Attorney David Callahan held them up yesterday in court.
Another defense witness, Frederick city police Detective David Armstrong, testified the man's pockets contained a fast-food receipt with the following handwritten on the back: "Amvets Post No. 5; 6:30 p.m. to 7:15 p.m.; four beers; Sunday, Nov. 19, 2000."
Christopher was last seen alive shortly after 6 p.m. Nov. 19 by a convenience store clerk who testified he sold the boy and Spencer Pokemon cards. Defense attorneys apparently hope jurors will wonder why police released a suspect carrying what could be construed as a prepared alibi.
Prosecutors did not ask the witnesses why they released the man. State's Attorney Scott Rolle has said the investigation was thorough and the evidence pointed to Spencer.
Prosecution witnesses placed Spencer with the boy on the night he died and testified Spencer's clothes were stained with Christopher's blood when he was arrested at a cold-weather shelter the next night.
Spencer, 46, is charged with first-degree murder, first-degree sexual offense and child abduction. Yesterday, Judge Dwyer dismissed a charge of attempted first-degree sexual offense due to a lack of supporting evidence.
Spencer had been freed from prison five days before the killing under mandatory early release rules after serving about half of a 10-year sentence for assaulting a woman. His record includes convictions for another assault and for raping an 11-year-old boy, and two other arrests for assaults on children. He has spent 23 of the last 28 years behind bars.
The case has led to calls for changes in the state's early release policies and sex-offender laws. Two bills pending in the General Assembly would allow certain repeat sex offenders to be sentenced to life without parole.
Mr. Rolle intends to seek life without parole for Spencer if he is convicted. The defendant, a slight, balding man, is ineligible for the death penalty because his IQ has consistently been tested below 70, the limit under a Maryland law that prohibits executing the retarded.

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